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Coaching Lecture: What’s the difference between Colluding vs Being Kind?

How do we as coaches distinguish between colluding and human kindness?

Sometimes, affirming and normalising a client’s experience can be a valuable intervention that helps the client feel seen, validated and supported.

But there are times when doing this can be colluding, which is high on empathy but low on progress. So we can stay stuck.

How do we know whether our interventions are colluding or just human kindness?

Collusion may not be apparent to the practitioner themselves - or at least not in the moment. Usually these moments become clear in hindsight, especially when you notice stuckness, feeling too close to the client’s story, feeling too emotionally invested or attached. Of course as coaches we have training in these areas so we’re prepared to catch them but we’re also human and sometimes that takes precedence.

What also matters is the client’s reaction to our interventions because we may intend it in one way (human) and the client might take it in another way (my coach thinks I’m right and X is wrong). These interventions are sometimes helpful in a coaching setting because they can come to clarify or correct an unhealthy position a client has, but not helpful when they reinforce duality and win-lose scenarios.

For example if a client is struggling to find a job because “the market is just impossible right now” - if I happen to share the same views or beliefs I’m more likely to collude in addition to just being human. So it can be useful to ask whether I’m reacting because of my own beliefs or because that’s what’s useful to the client’s work.

Another sign of collusion is whether the type of intervention is used compulsively and frequently (useful to reflect - am I using it more often with one particular client, one particular topic, with all clients?) or am I using it sparingly because that’s what came up in the moment and it may not come up again for the next 20 sessions?

June Singer says something in “Boundaries of the Soul” about the position the therapist takes. If the client has a strong ego and not allowing contact with the unconscious, then the analyst might come to represent and elicit the part that’s not present. So if the client comes from an fixed ego perspective (I’m right and X is wrong), then “kindness”/agreeing could sometimes be colluding. But if they come from a weak ego perspective (I’m probably wrong because I always am) then the same intervention is more likely to be kindness.

Finally, I’d ask whether my intervention is helping the client move forward in some way, or keeping them stuck in a loop? If they are stuck (and we are stuck together) it’s worth exploring if some of my interventions were colluding.

What are your thoughts about colluding?

If this article was helpful why not let me know in a comment below?


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